How to Handle Cattle

3-1 cattle

Cattle are very skittish creatures. They will get nervous or stressed when something new is added into their environment. For this reason, when you need to move or handle them, you must be aware of the face that this could be a stressful process for the animal.

One of the best things to do is to train your herd to come when it is called, whether with voice, bell, or other noise making object. This eliminates a big part of moving the cattle if they already start in an area close to you. Once they are gathered, take small groups of cattle and start moving them.

Animals are influenced to move when a farmer steps into their flight zone. The flight zone is the distance an animal puts between itself and an “unknown” (human, animal, or otherwise) where they feel comfortable. The animals are often facing and watching the unknown. Completely tame cows won’t have a flight zone; they will allow themselves to be led where they are wanted to go. However, some cattle need a bit more convincing. Cows have a blind spot directly behind them. Because of the placement of their eyes on their head, they have great peripheral vision. The best place to stand to start “putting pressure” on the animal’s flight zone is to their side, by the shoulder. That way they can see you, but are not able to directly kick or buck at you. If you stand directly behind her, in the blind spot, she’ll turn to get a better look at the person, which means they will move their body the opposite direction of where you want them to go.

The most successful method for handling cattle is to stand in their flight zone, to the side, and take a small, quiet step toward her. When she moves, back up a step to give her space to relax and adjust, then creep in again with another step. Once she turns in the direction you want her to travel, you can start encouraging her forward. Remember to handle cows slowly and quietly. Any extra noises may upset or agitate the cattle, meaning they will become much more difficult to handle. If handling cattle in a pen or tub, only fill the area with half the animals you typically would. This gives the animal plenty of room to walk around or turn if needed.

A fully agitated cattle’s heart rate can take up to 20 minutes to return to normal. It is important to keep this in mind no matter where you are moving your herd. Early signs of an agitated animal include a swishing tail that gets progressively faster, seeing the whites of their eyes, or raising their heads up. If you cross the line where the animal gets upset, then they will start bucking or kicking.

The best thing to do is to try and train your herd early. Teach them they must be quiet and still before they will get fed. Have their first experience with a new situation (ie: leading them to a chute) be no pressure, and perhaps even get rewarded with food or a treat. The animal will then associate that experience positively, and they will be more comfortable with it when it happens in the future.


Grandin, Temple. “Recommended Basic Livestock Handling.”

Nickel, Raylene. “Handling Cattle Quietly and Strategically.” Sucessful Farming

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